Thompson Rivers University

Chemistry contest turns 20

  Posted on: May 27, 2016

Chemistry Contest 2016 involving Grade 11 students determining how much aspertame is in a packet of tabletop sweetener.

Grade 11 students review their findings to the question of how much aspartame is in a standard-sized packet of sweetener.

Chemistry Contest 2016 involving Grade 11 students determining how much aspertame is in a packet of tabletop sweetener.

Students discuss their results.

Grade 11 students conduct their experiment.

Students fill glass tubes under the guidance of chemistry faculty member Marten Lettinga.

ChemistryContest_lab2016_005_crop

Students wait their turn at one of the instruments.

Lacey Banman, a fourth-year Bachelor of Science student majoring in chemistry and math, helps a visiting student.

Lacey Banman, a fourth-year Bachelor of Science student majoring in chemistry and math, provides some guidance.

One of TRU’s longest-running outreach projects celebrated its 20th birthday this month and in doing so, isn’t showing signs of letting up.

The annual BC High School Chemistry Contest for grades 11 and 12 chemistry students is a written test that doesn’t affect grades. Started in 1997 by TRU chemistry faculty, it was offered locally before word got out and more and more schools wanted to be involved. It eventually grew to include the entire province and this year totalled 99 schools (three of them in China) and 3,400 students.

As a bonus for local Grade 11 students, they can visit TRU to use labs and instruments to solve a a real-world question. This year they were asked how much aspartame is in a standard packet of sweetener. Previous years have asked how much copper is in a multivitamin and what is the active ingredient in sun screen. 

Working in small groups and under the guidance of TRU chemistry faculty and volunteer TRU students, 43 local Grade 11 chemistry students had the run of two science labs, high-end glassware and high-tech instruments. Their objective? Determine the level of aspartame in a standard-sized packet of sweetener.

Results varied depending on such things as measuring techniques, contamination and patience, but one constant was the enthusiasm of experiencing a university lab in a real way.

“This is great exposure for TRU and hopefully we’re generating an interest in chemistry,” said Doug Bickley, a TRU Professor Emeritus and retired TRU chemistry faculty who continues to be heavily involved with the day.

Around the room teams are in various stages of arriving at their answer. Some are measuring liquids into small glass tubes, others are discussing and recording their results on paper handouts while others are using the expensive instruments. Taking it all in, faculty member Sharon Brewer said she never tires of the enthusiasm on contest day.

“I like seeing them having fun and seeing how they’re motivated to be here. It’s fun seeing them do these real-world experiments,” said Brewer.

Student volunteer Lacey Banman is in her fourth year of a Bachelor of Science majoring in chemistry and math. Though a few years removed from Grade 11, for moments she was back being a Sa-Hali secondary student. She told of diligently studying for the exam and how studying sparked a deeper interest in chemistry. She recalled the friendly presence of faculty members Kingsley Donkor and Bickley.

“I’m here because I want to give students the same experience I had when I visited,” said Banman, adding, “Hopefully I piqued their interest. I like teaching and have wanted to be a teacher since I was eight years old. I think a day like this is important because it shows how science can be interesting.”